Cracking the SAT Code

Standardized tests can intimidate and unravel any student. Four tips to help high schoolers with ADHD and learning disabilities perform better.

Study Tips for ADD / ADHD Students ADDitude Magazine

Testing Accommodations

The College Board and the ACT provide eligible students with a variety of testing accommodations, including tests with fewer items on each page, the option of dictating essays to a scribe, the use of a private room, and administration of the test over the course of a few days.

For complete guidelines, visit or


Whether it’s the SAT, PSAT, or ACT, taking a standardized test is a high-pressure situation for any student. But for one who has ADHD or a learning disability, these tests are especially challenging.

Standardized tests are administered over long periods of time with very few and very short breaks — not exactly the recipe for success for the ADHD student. Still, there are ways to prepare.

Practice in a similar environment

The venue where your standardized test is administered will probably be full of distractions: another student’s sneezing or coughing fit, papers rustling, the proctor’s relentless pacing—not to mention the inviting view from the window.

Earplugs may help (just make sure to put them in after the proctor has given the instructions for completing the test). But the best way to prepare is to take practice tests in a similar environment, such as a crowded café or the main room of your school library. This will allow you to get used to working in a distraction-rich environment before your actual test date.

Read only what you need to

The reading comprehension passages tend to be long and full of unnecessary information. Avoid losing focus by reading only the first and last two sentences of each paragraph. This will give you the general idea and prepare you to answer questions about the main themes.

For questions concerning specific words or lines, find these in the passage and read the text around them. Seldom is there a question that requires knowledge of more than a few lines of text at a time, and this approach allows you to focus only on the relevant information.

Plan your essay before writing

The people grading the SAT will take only a few minutes to evaluate your thesis, supporting statements, and conclusion, so it’s crucial that your essay follows a traditional structure. Students with ADHD may find it difficult to organize their thoughts, but if you have your thesis and at least two points of evidence in mind before you start writing, you’re less likely to become distracted from the argument you are trying to make.

In addition to being conventionally formatted, make sure your essay uses proper grammar and vocabulary. Don’t spend time trying to impress with words you’re not even sure how to spell. By sticking to familiar language, you eliminate another distraction and give yourself more time to focus on the structure of your essay.

Leave time to double-check

Each section of the test must be completed within a set amount of time, so place a watch on your desk to help you stay focused. Far too many students — especially those who have problems with impulsivity — aren’t in the habit of checking and revising their work. But just one review of your essay could catch spelling and grammatical errors that might otherwise lower your score.

For the other sections, divide the number of minutes you have by the number of questions; if you’re spending more than that designated amount of time, you’re either overthinking the question or you simply don’t know the answer. If you can eliminate one or more answers, make a guess, and move on to the next question.

This article comes from the December 2006/January 2007 issue of ADDitude.

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TAGS: Homework and Test Help

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